Description from Goodreads:
Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.
Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.
So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.
Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.
Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?
I usually don’t get to Young Adult Fantasy novels this soon after they’re released (it came out the end of last month), but Magonia piqued my interest, mostly because it was based on a historical myth about ships in the sky. The story was told very well, but despite that, I don’t know how often I’d want to reread it. It was very unique, in narration and feel, and the world building was fantastic, but frustrating. If there is a sequel, though, I’ll definitely be interested, if only to get some answers to my many questions about the wonderful world of Magonia.
Here’s a look at five categories of the novel: Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, and World-Building, plus an Overall Response.
Narration: 5 out of 5. This part was…unique. I didn’t necessarily like Aza—if I met her in real life, we probably wouldn’t be friends—but I could relate to her. She told her story so I could feel it, and it made me cry in parts. The tone was very personal, being first-person-past-tense, but we do switch between Aza and Jason, her best friend, every few chapters. I liked Jason’s tone better than Aza, since there was a lot more humor in his voice than hers, but I think the author did a good job pulling off two distinct voices. You can see why they were each others best friends, but at the same time, there were differences.
There are times when the narration is almost poetic, with word art strung across the page and sentences with empty brackets and parentheses, standing in for words, but it all works. The characters made such unique devices believable and even intelligible.
Content: 3 out of 5. There is some swearing (understandably, since Aza is stuck with the fatal problem of being unable to breathe), but not much beyond that in the way of violence or sex. (For those who would want to know this, the book does feature a gay couple—Jason’s parents—but there is so little interaction between the two that they could’ve been his spinster aunts.) The book provides all the information you need to know about the historical legends of Magonia, which is nice, since I’d never heard of it before, but does so without becoming a history book. There is some fighting, but none of it is very technical, or very detailed, which makes sense based on Aza’s character (she’s never had the opportunity to become an expert in fighting of any kind). I wish there had been a lot more clear-sighted observation, just because I wanted to know the world of Magonia better than Aza let me, but I don’t recall the book ever telling us something the character’s wouldn’t notice or know. (And one can only slightly fault an author for making good, sound narration at the expense of the content).
The other thing that bothered me was the plot, where certain things just weren’t explained and we had to just accept them at face value. Without spoiling the plot, Aza’s power seems to only work in a certain way, during the climax, despite her having greater control over it earlier. It’s convenient for the plot but seemed rather contrived.
Characters: 5 out 5. The characters could be frustrating, because they were so believable. Aza is rather sarcastic and snarky at times, throwing any idea of pitying her in your face, but she grew over the course of the book, becoming more vulnerable with her readers and losing the façade of “everything’s-fine-I’m-okay.” Jason was very loyal, but believably so. (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) He wasn’t a cardboard cut-out of the girl’s best friend who won’t believe she’s dead. He was very human, as were Aza’s family, which was why I cried when they said goodbye to her at her “death scene.”
Artwork: Subjective. The cover is very beautiful—a large feather, part blue, part gold, fragmenting into a flock of birds, high over a city with the sun setting in the distance. And I felt it really captured the world of the story, too. There is no map, but since we spend much of the book in the sky (or in Aza’s hometown) it really didn’t bother me (though I was curious at to where Aza’s hometown was supposed to be; there weren’t a lot of clues given).
World Building: 3 out 5. This was the best and worst part of the novel. The world was beautiful and cleverly imagined, but there was so much about it that wasn’t explained. Early on, Aza has a MRI which shows that there’s a feather in her lungs, but we’re never told how it got there, where it came from, or why. The same goes with other details about how she came to live on earth. Did her parents know that she was different from the beginning? Did the Magonians switch her in the hospital? Or sometime later? We’re never told, which was frustrating. (It does reflect real life, though, so it is understandable, and it wasn’t as though there was a Magonian Gandalf there to explain everything that had happened and why it happened and so forth.) So it was consistent, but there are a lot of questions left unanswered, even after the last page is turned.
Overall Response: 16 out of 20, for a total of 4. The book was easily one of the best written books I’ve read in a long time. I wish there’d been a bit more humor—and that Aza would’ve opened up to us a touch faster—and that we knew a bit more so the climax could make sense, but overall, it was a very enjoyable journey. I’m hoping this is the beginning of a series, because there’s more than enough material to work with.
You can find Magonia here.
Guest review contributed by Andrea Lundgren. Andrea’s blog focuses on reading and writing from a writer’s point of view, so the book reviews analyze books across several categories, looking at what worked and didn’t work. This can be especially helpful when reviewing works by indie authors.